TORONTO — Embattled Ontario Housing Minister Steve Clark stepped down from his cabinet role on Monday following weeks of criticism over his handling of efforts to remove land from the province’s protected Greenbelt.
Here is a timeline of events in the controversy:
Nov. 4, 2022: Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark announces via news release that Ontario would remove 7,400 acres in 15 different areas of the Greenbelt, while adding 9,400 acres elsewhere, in order to build 50,000 homes. It contradicted a pledge he made in 2021 not to open up the Greenbelt “to any kind of development.”
Nov. 11: CBC reports that the landowners who stand to benefit from the Greenbelt land removals include prominent developers and that one purchase happened as recently as September.
Nov. 30: Clark says he did not tip off developers ahead of announcing changes to the Greenbelt. Premier Doug Ford says the same a day later.
Jan. 6, 2023: Ontario Provincial Police say they’re working to determine whether they should investigate the matter.
Jan. 18: Ontario’s integrity commissioner and auditor general both announce that they will conduct separate probes. The integrity commissioner launches an investigation into Clark based on a complaint from NDP leader Marit Stiles. She asked the commissioner to investigate whether Clark broke ethics rules around making a public policy decision to further someone’s private interests.
Feb. 23: Stiles asks the integrity commissioner to issue an opinion on Ford’s actions surrounding his daughter’s stag-and-doe event ahead of her wedding. Ford has acknowledged that some developers, who are friends, attended the $150-a-ticket event and media reports say lobbyists and government relations firms were also invited. Stiles says in her complaint that several individuals and developers who attended the subsequent wedding have received favourable Minister’s Zoning Orders and at least one has benefited from Greenbelt changes.
March 16: The integrity commissioner temporarily sets aside the stag-and-doe request, saying there is overlap with the Greenbelt investigation that’s already underway. The commissioner says he and his staff are reviewing the “extensive material” gathered so far, have done independent research, and are preparing summonses for numerous witnesses to be interviewed.
Aug. 9: Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk releases her report. Her findings include that all but one of the 15 sites removed from the Greenbelt were suggested not by civil servants, but by Clark’s chief of staff, who was given packages at an industry event by two key developers, and that developers who had access to the top staffer wound up with 92 per cent of the land that was removed. If some sites did not meet the criteria for selection, such as for environmental reasons, the criterion was simply dropped, rather than selecting a different site, Lysyk finds.
Aug. 10: The integrity commissioner’s office says it has started reviewing a request from Ford’s office to investigate Clark’s chief of staff Ryan Amato.
Aug. 14: Ford’s office says it is creating a working group to implement Lysyk’s recommendations on improving processes.
Aug. 16: Stiles asks the integrity commissioner to consider Lysyk’s findings that political staff were using personal email accounts and were regularly deleting emails.
Aug. 22: Amato resigns.
Aug: 23: The OPP refers the matter to the RCMP out of concern over a perceived conflict of interest. The RCMP says it will evaluate the information and assess whether to launch an investigation.
Aug. 25: Ford, in his first comments since Amato’s resignation, says he’s “confident” nothing criminal took place on the Greenbelt file.
Aug. 28: First Nation chiefs across the province call on Ford to return land to the Greenbelt. The Chiefs of Ontario say they are angered they were not consulted on the land swap that involves several First Nations traditional territories. The Chiefs of Ontario say the Greenbelt moves violate the Williams Treaties that were settled with the province and the federal government in 2018.
Aug. 29: Ford threatens to return land back to the Greenbelt after he found out one of the sites earmarked for housing in Ajax, Ont., was purportedly put up for sale. A representative for the landowner, who lives in China, said it was a misunderstanding. John Dong said the land owner, Yuchen Lu, is an investor who was looking for a development partner and “at no time was the property going to be sold outright.”
Aug. 30: Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake releases his report looking into Clark. He found Clark violated two sections of the Members Integrity Act and recommended to the Ontario legislature that the minister be reprimanded. Wake found that the process of selecting lands to be removed from the Greenbelt was marked by “unnecessary hastiness and deception.” He also found that Amato was the “driving force” behind that process and that Clark was unaware, although he should have known, what his chief of staff was up to on such a sensitive topic. The report sparks renewed calls from the opposition that Clark resign. Later in the day the province said it was returning the Ajax site owned by Lu back to the Greenbelt.
Aug. 31: Ford backs Clark, saying “he has a tough job.” Clark, in a separate news conference, apologizes for his role in the Greenbelt controversy. He accepts responsibility, and pledges to do better going forward but doesn’t provide specifics.
Sept. 4: Clark formally resigns as housing minister in a letter to Ford shared on social media. He says he plans to stay on as the representative for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, but says the housing crisis demands leadership from someone who won’t be a distraction. He also says he needs to take accountability for his actions.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2023.
The Canadian Press